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October 10, 2012

American peace activists join anti-drone march in Pakistan

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

“Many Americans have an image of Pakistan and its people as "teeming with anti-Americanism." Americans see images on TV of angry Pakistani demonstrators burning American flags. Indeed, polls say three of four Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy. But in the last week, we and thirty other Americans have been blessed with an experience few Americans have shared, seeing a more hopeful side of the relationship of the people of Pakistan to Americans. For the last week in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and then in the nation’s tribal areas, our delegation that came to Pakistan to protest U.S. drones has been showered with tremendous hospitality, warmth and friendship.”

This is how Media Benjamin of CODEPINK and Robert Naiman of TruthOut.org describe their experience with the anti-Drone march led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan on October 6-7. Dozens of American and British peace activists joined the peace march to Waziristan, a poor, dangerous, isolated tribal area of Pakistan where drones have killed so many people.

The PTI's peace-march caravan, which consisted of scores of vehicles and hundreds of activists, had kicked off from Islamabad for South Waziristan Saturday. At one time it was 15 kilometer long. However, the authorities barred it from entering South Waziristan which remains a no-go area for journalists and observers as a Pakistan military operation continues amid news censorship.

The American delegation joined the mass anti-drone rally was held in “Jahazi Ground” in Tank at the conclusion of the march. To the cheers of a teeming group of Pakistanis, the American and British delegates walked on stage holding anti-drone signs and pictures of children who have been killed in drone attacks, and delivered an apology for the death of innocent people.

"We want you to know that these Americans you see here have been fighting for years against this drone policy, and will continue to do so until we put an end into to these barbaric attacks. We want to live in peace and harmony with our brothers and sisters in this region," American delegates told the crowd.

Media Benjamin and Robert Naiman wrote: “We aren't under any illusions that our single delegation will by itself abolish the drone strikes and transform the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan to one based on peaceful cooperation. But we are convinced that current U.S. policy towards Pakistan, with its emphasis on military might and marginalization of negotiations as a means of trying to address Pakistan's security problems, is dangerously misguided and counterproductive, feeding an endless cycle of violence.”

“Americans and Pakistanis are being taught to fear and distrust each other, instead of being encouraged to seek political resolutions of conflicts. Such a short-sighted policy won't make Americans more safe. It's time to fundamentally re-think U.S. policy towards Pakistan, and an important step forward is for Americans to see Pakistanis in the tribal areas as fully human,”  they argued.

In addition to the anti-drone march, delegates had one-on-one meetings in Islamabad with people who have been injured by drones and people who have lost loved ones in drone attacks, as well as government officials, women's group, human rights organizations and think tanks. The group has also raised funds to help victims with their medical needs, since the U.S. government pays no compensation to people it has mistakenly harmed. One of the people they will be helping is Sadaullah, a 16-year-old who lost an eye and two legs in a drone attack.

According to Medea Benjamin, many Pakistanis who raged against the “Innocence of Muslims” film were venting long-held resentments towards the United States stemming from drone attacks (along with other policies such as the US mishandling of the war in Afghanistan, the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, and the US pro-Israel bias in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict).

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange, is author of the recently published  Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Drone casualties

Casualty figures are difficult to obtain but a report commissioned by Reprieve estimated last month that 474 to 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012.

Meanwhile, a newly released study Living Under Drones, written by human rights researchers from Stanford and New York Universities, details hundreds of Pakistani civilian casualties and the devastating effects of drone strikes on the local population. "In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling "targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the study says.

182-page report, sponsored by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic (NYU Clinic) at NYU School of Law, released on Sepbember 25, 2012.

Just one in 50 victims of America’s deadly drone strikes in Pakistan are terrorists – while the rest are innocent civilians, a new report said.

Instead, the study concludes that the CIA drone program in Pakistan has not made America any safer and instead has turned the Pakistani public against the United States. Indeed, 80% of Pakistanis  have a negative opinion of the United States and three-in-four Pakistanis consider the United States their enemy.

The authoritative joint study, by Stanford and New York Universities, concludes that men, women and children are being terrorized by the operations ’24 hours-a-day’. And the authors lay much of the blame on the use of the ‘double-tap’ strike where a drone fires one missile – and then a second as rescuers try to drag victims from the rubble. One aid agency said they had a six-hour delay before going to the scene.

The tactic has cast such a shadow of fear over strike zones that people often wait for hours before daring to visit the scene of an attack. Investigators also discovered that communities living in fear of the drones were suffering severe stress and related illnesses. Many parents had taken their children out of school because they were so afraid of a missile-strike.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the charity Reprieve which helped interview people for the report, said: ‘This shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies.’ There have been at least 345 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan in the past eight years.

Despite assurances the attacks are 'surgical', researchers found barely two per cent of their victims are known militants and that the idea that the strikes make the world a safer place for the U.S. is 'ambiguous at best'. Researchers added that traumatic effects of the strikes go far beyond fatalities, psychologically battering a population which lives under the daily threat of annihilation from the air, and ruining the local economy.

They conclude by calling on Washington completely to reassess its drone-strike program or risk alienating the very people they hope to win over. They also observe that the strikes set worrying precedents for extra-judicial killings at a time when many nations are building up their unmanned weapon arsenals.

US waives restrictions to allow $2bn aid to Pakistan

Tellingly, as Imran Khan was leading an anti-Drones march, it was announced in Washington that the United States has waived legal restrictions that could have blocked $2 billion of economic and military assistance to Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has informed Congress that it was in America’s national interest to do so.

 “Encouraged by the recent positive engagement with Pakistan, the Secretary has decided to exercise her authority to waive in fiscal year 2012 certification requirements on certain civilian and security assistance to Pakistan. The Secretary has determined that such assistance is in the US national security interest,” a State Department official said.

“It is a critical component of US efforts to continue to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan grounded in concrete action on areas of shared interest,” the official said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, addressing a mass anti-drone rally in “Jahazi Ground” in Tank, Imran Khan accused the US-client Zardari government of playing double game as in close doors it allows US to carry out drone strikes inside Pakistani territory but tells people that it always opposes the attacks. Imran Khan advised the Zardari government to abandon double standers and tell the truth to the people of Pakistan.

He said drone strikes kill many innocent people and these attacks spread hatred against America adding that these are counter productive of terrorism as relatives of victims lift weapons against US. He said it is the basic duty of the government to protect its citizens but this puppet government even did not know names of those who have been killed in these attacks.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.